The man at the center of an international debate over the limits of free speech was freed on bail Wednesday after a panel of judges in the United Kingdom ruled a recent trial against him was handled so quickly it did not allow all evidence to be properly considered.
According to the U.K. Sun, political activist and English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, 35, was greeted with applause and hugs from supporters who traveled to the Onley Prison this week ahead of his release.
According to the BBC, Robinson was arrested in May, convicted of contempt charges and sentenced to more than a year behind bars for his broadcast on social media of video depicting defendants in a trial in Leeds Crown Court. According to the Sun, the trial was “subject to blanket reporting restrictions.”
A combination of filming outside of the courthouse during a trial, commenting on the apparent ethnicity and religion of those involved, and asking his followers to share the video led a judge to rule against him.
Robinson also seemed to acknowledge that he knew filming outside of court was prohibited, even questioning the practice in the video that led to his arrest.
According to the Sun, Judge Geoffrey Marson said during sentencing that the jail term would send the message that “there are responsibilities and obligations” that accompany the right to free speech.
“I am not sure you appreciate the potential consequence of what you have done,” he told Robinson. “People have to understand that if they breach court orders there will be very real consequences.”
Part of the 13-month sentence was related to a previous breach of court orders related to Robinson filming of defendants in a trial last year.
On appeal, however, that ruling was found to have been “rushed,” without giving Robinson a chance to fully defend himself.
Specifically, the three-judge Court of Appeals found that the lower court did not determine which segments of Robinson’s social-media post constituted a violation of the law.
In its ruling, the appeals court determined that the defendant was treated with “unfairness” during his trial given the “muddled” nature of the proceedings.
Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Duncan Burnett announced the decision in what came as welcome news to Robinson and his supporters.
“The appellant is granted bail and the matter of contempt at Leeds Crown Court is remitted to be heard again,” he said.
As noted in the ruling, Robinson’s legal woes are not over with his release from jail. He is expected to face trial again on the same charges as early as next month.
Upon his release, Robinson shared a terse message with reporters gathered to cover the news.
“All the British media do is lie,” he said. “I have a lot to say, but nothing to you. I want to thank the British public for all their support.”
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